Space for More Spaces

It’s rather telling that my search for “information abundance” is dominated by results with “Information Overload” in the title. This was my effort to find an opening to write about a friend/colleague’s desire to create a new online space.

This first hint of this came upon email notifications of what I missed in Mastodon. I have a number of colleagues who have found a home there more communal than twitter. But frankly I don’t check in very often. It’s not a platform difference, it’s just that I find very little time to engage in yet more conversation spaces.

In fact, I’ve been so buried in trying to get my work projects done, I’ve kind of slipped even out of twitter for a while. Heck, I had not even posted photos to flickr in more than three weeks, and the day I decided to post my catch up was the day flickr was down for their but cloud migration, and it took about 5 rounds just to updated.

And this blog too has sputtered to a stall. I have stuff to write about the wrap of #netnarr and a handful of more posts that just reside on open browser tabs.

Back to the topic. Geoff Gevalt had posted… er “tooted” in Mastodon about his idea to create a community space for artists. One free of the short length limits of social media as well as the trappings of views/favorites that drive behavior there (I have enjoyed Geoff’s recent sharing of photos and short story captions in Instagram) There was banter among quite a few people I knew, but Geoff had also reached out to me via email.

But you see, he had written fully about it in the space I think matters most- his own blog.

And from the perspective of an artist on his third lifetime — that is I write in the mornings (usually) and take pictures in the afternoon (usually) — I want a way to connect to people, to get feedback, to gain perspective and, and, and … to learn from others. It was how newsrooms worked. It was how journalism worked. And it was how the Web did, could and still can work.


I tire of the relentless push to get followers or reactions or some sort of response on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and even Mastodon. Overall, a sincere waste of time offset by some of the links that I have followed to see work and ideas and writing and visual art and ideas that have been astounding. Uplifting.


But how does it relate to what I struggle with?


I suspect I am not alone. I suspect that, given that making art is a relatively solitary enterprise (even for actors and musicians and performance poets) having a community to connect with is a good and positive thing. It helps climb out of our own skin, to gain perspective, to see other ways of doing things, of resolving problems, of trying something we do not know how to do.

And Geoff wants to devote his tireless energy to trying to make this space, pretty much trying to start with the platform he built for his long running Young Writers Project.

I certainly do not see Twitter, Mastodon, Instagram as being “the place”, the conversations there, connections, enable the discovery of people worth “spacing with”… but my first thought was, do we really need another space?

And then I felt a bit like a cranky old person.

I still hold on to the idea that those old archaic, pre-social media constructs, a personal blog, is the main place, the home, to operate from. There are no limits or controls of corporations or data selling. What’s missing is people attending to them, we;ve been pretty much driven, led, or on our own, decided to spend most of our attention economy in the big spaces. Not to be shut in and never leave, but all the other spaces are somewhat secondary, maybe we visit often.

I’m not looking for the ideal space, to me it’s the entire internet. I wish to be above, to transcend, to hop across spaces (and we all do, unless we are talking about people who equate the internet with facebook).

The thing is, whenever I see a “gg” icon or ggevalt username, I expect the Geoffness I have gotten to know there. You see it was a mutual friend/colleague, Barbara Ganley who connected us, and got to meet Geoff at her house, leading to a visit to his house, and staying up int he freezing cold watching him process his home made maple syrup (which he has several times mailed by a jar of the precious stuff), we have collaborated on mutual projects.

All of this depends on multiple spaces, not one ideal one. And likely I am mis-stating Geoff’s intent, getting it wrapped up in my own angst of never enough time to follow all my interests.

But it’s exactly because of this shared, multi-spaced connections with Geoff, that I even set up an account on his new space, look around, make a post.

Do we need more online spaces? Sure why not, it’s certainly a bit better than spending our mind energy in scroll, click, favorite spaces. Will I be able to spend a ton of time there? Likely not.

It’s not the features of the space that would draw me, it’s the hospitality and shared stories with the person behind it. So where ever you go, rather than focus on the reads, views, likes, analytics, I suggest focus on making more meaningful, real connections.

Ok, Geoff, I’m in. Now you get to hear my complaints about drupal!


Featured Image:

Keep Blog Syndication Simple[r]

It should be simple right, if you believe in RSS and that it stands for Really Simple Syndication.

Going back to DS106 in 2011 and onward to maybe 12 projects and my own teaching (currently for NetNarr), the blog syndication hub in WordPress has been at the center of a lot of work. I can set one up in a flash.

Yet… The managing of the Feed WordPress plugin involves ongoing wonkiness, odd error messages that come and go, wrestling with featured images, and often feeds that Just Don’t Work (the most reliable fix is washing them through FeedBurner).

And while I have written up a pretty extensive guide that a number of intrepid people have waded through, well, it’s not for everyone.

I’ve been thinking of a different approach, that means not building a web site, but having participants rig up their own syndication, using an old fashioned RSS Reader (ask your grandpa what they were). I started doing this last year in an MA Graduate Research seminar I led for a handful of students at Kean University.

The participants did blog their progress and there is the usual Hub site, it dawned on me that a more effective approach is asking the students to build their own syndication platform in a Reader (for them I had recommend Feedly, not that it was any better or worse than others).

One is a matter of efficiency. To check new content in a blog hub, means remembering to visit the site and try to remember what you have not read before.

The feed of syndicated posts on the ResNetSem blog hub

Compare this to scanning your own Feed Reader, where you can not only see instantly what is new (bold title), but you can read/scan the content without having to click away to another site.

The RSS Reader view of syndicated blogs.

That’s why, I will repeat until I get put away in the Old EdTech Folks Home, that this is  The Indispensable Digital Research Tool I can Say, Without Lying, Saves Time. You will never convince me otherwise.

The other part is, you can then encourage your students to also build their own set of feeds to monitor, a research tool I’d want students to be using. For those that make the flailing claim that Twitter is their RSS Reader Replacement would you suggest your students do the same? Really?

So what does it take? Are you ready for another acronym?

OPML. Who cares what it stands for? It’s just a way of packaging a set of RSS Feeds into one file, it is a collection of blog feeds. So maybe you have students send you their blog URLs by email, or have them fill out some kind of Google form. You don’t even need to ask them to try and figure out their RSS Feeds (you just need a wee bit of savvy to find a feed URL, that’s for another post).

You have a few ways to create an OPML file:

  • Find an OPML Generator. Just a web form where you paste in the feeds for your student’s blogs and click a button. The funny thing is every item listed on this old page is dead. Don’t fret, this one looks solid https://opml-gen.ovh/
  • Let an RSS Reader Do it. Add the feeds one by one to an RSS Reader, like Feedly, organize them all in a folder, and look for an Export OPML option
  • Let WordPress do it. Look inside your site for the Links editor, add your Blog Feeds to it as new links (delete any of the default ones WordPress puts in there). If you tack on wp-links.opml to your blog URL, wowza you get an OPML file. Heck, someone actually wrote a blog post about this.

Okay, I am going quickly now, and if you need more help, ask. But once you have that OPML file, you just need to get it to your students, tell them how to set up a Feed Reader, and how to import the file.

Perhaps you are wrinkling your brow saying, “I thought you said this was simple, CogDog.”

Believe me, the first run through may feel not so simple, but it’s much much less than doing all the FeedWordPress shenanigans.

What if the list of blogs change, you ask? For the most part, if you import an updated OPML file, it only adds one not currently in the list. A more elegant approach might be to have students use Inoreader because it has a feature for dynamic OPML subscriptions. This means you put the OPML file on a web server somewhere, and have students use that as a way to set up their subscriptions. If you every update the file, replace it, and everyone subscribed to the feeds will have their subscriptions updated.

I set up a Feed Reader for any group of feeds in a class I am teaching or a project using the approach. It’s the only sane way to make sure I can scan when students have new posts.

Looking at the collection for all my student feeds, I can quickly see what is new, that I have not read yet. Hey! It’s like email!
And I can also look at an individual blog to see one student’s work.

If you rely on manually checking students blogs… well have fun with that.

But wait… there’s more…

I can also get a collection of RSS Feeds for comment activity on my student blogs, woah Neo!

That’s right, at a glance, I can scan at the amount and content of comments on my student’s blogs.

Getting the comment RSS feed URL is not too complex, for a WordPress site such as http://blog.sillycat.net/ the comments feed is http://blog.sillycat.net/comments/feed/. The feed will be for all comments on a blog, I don’t think you can peel it back for category, tag. For one hosted on Blogger, say https://sillycatfoodlover.blogspot.com/ the comments feed is https://sillycatfoodlover.blogspot.com/feeds/comments/default?alt=rss.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still value in having the syndication hub site; it makes for a nice way to show the overall activity, and also to have an archive of the items published.

But in terms of processing the flow of information, an RSS Reader is much better at this, a worthy skill for students to learn (even if so called experts keep writing the eulogies for RSS), and it can also be done distributed; a web site and hub are not even needed.

What’s more important is the writing and sharing that is done.


Featured Image: I did some remixing by changing “Simple” to “Syndication” from Keep Things Simple flickr photo by gdsteam shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license